OSU Libraries | OSU Home

Introduction

Charles Erskine Scott Wood led an extraordinary life, long, varied, and vital. Soldier, port, attorney, satirist, philosophical anarchist, reformer, bon vivant, boon companion, painter, art patron, bibliophile, and pacifist--C.E.S. Wood was all of these. Approaching the Renaissance ideal of the universal man, he packed into nearly 92 years of living three distinct careers and a remarkable variety of experiences, exhibiting a rare capacity for savoring life and a stunning diversity of talent, including a protean, at times profound, facility for the literary arts.

An early impression derives from a large camera study of Lieutenant C.E. Scott Wood in his mid-twenties. he wears the uniform of an infantry man in the United States Army. He is seated on a rough-hewn chair, casting a level gaze at whatever crosses his line of vision, a revolver held loosely on his thigh. The youthful face is handsome-straight nose, resolute mouth, strong jaw.

In his later years, Colonel Wood (a militia title conferred by an Oregon governor years after Wood left the military) looked like an old testament prophet, with long snowy hair and full-flowing beard, but still the level gaze, the deep-set blue eyes. In a portrait by Ansel Adams, he looks far into the camera's eye, his face remarkably unwrinkled, except around the eyes where the lines seem etched by wisdom.

Between the handsome lieutenant and the snowy-haired sage lies almost a century of U.S. history, from the Wild West to the Second World War. Wood's life and writing chronicle and interpret many aspects of American life: westward expansion, the Progressive movement, women's fight for suffrage, isolationism and the Anti-imperialist League, The "Wobblies," Victorianism, Christian Socialists, the anarchist movement, Social Darwinism, and others that are faint in our cultural memory. Literature professor James Caldwell summed it up in a single phrase when he described his father-in-law as n "era and a realm." In the sparkle of Wood's exceptional character and vision lies a literature of some distinction, capable of grace, wit, delight, and righteous fire.

C.E.S. Wood lived intensely, often extravagantly, in terms of money, emotion, and engagement in the arts. He drew friends from contrasting corners of society: Mark Twain and Chief Joseph; anarchist Emma Goldman and James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad; Robinson Jeffers, California poet, and Clarence Darrow, prominent defense lawyer; Bill Hanley, Harney County cattleman, and Childe Hassam, American impressionist painter; Margaret Sanger and Mark Van Doren; Corinne Roosevelt Robinson, Teddy roosevelt's sister, and Langston Hughes, Black Poet; John Reed and John Steinbeck--to name a few. Described by a contemporary as a man of "vitality, magnetism, charm, wit, and teasing irreverence, "Wood was a complex, contradictory, and unique man who forged a distinctive and refreshing lifestyle and projected, as well, a vision that illuminates the American West. His life and work can be seen as taking Jeffersonian values--that "all men are created equal...endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"--and passing them through the crucible of what the historian of the American West Frederick Jackson Turner called, "the ennobling experience...the fierce love of freedom...furnished to the pioneer."

There was a rugged dimension to Wood's character and vision, the result, no doubt, of his frontier experience and his years on the Pacific slope. He put it bluntly in 1902 at the Manhattan Club when he spoke to a large gathering of Eastern Democrats:

I come from the West where the illimitable mountains lift up their heads to the very silence of God. Where the vast wilderness sits in silent brooding on the truth. I come from the West, where in a civilization founded on the mine and the camp, we believe that the saloon and the theater has as good a right to be open on Sunday as the church and the school. I come from where we think that it is the right of every American to go to hell and be damned if he wants to. That is not humor--it is the truth.

The rangy defiance ringing in that statement, coupled with the conviction that freedom salted with knowledge will solve society's problems, ran through most of his life. In addition, Wood had an aesthetic side, a deep love of beauty and a sensuous appreciation of the good things in life--fine wines, pungent cheeses, exotic stones, and rare art objects. this, as well as his reading in classical literature, tempered his broad-shouldered western individualism, lending an urbane and learned flavor to his western verse and anarchist sallies.

The overall impression of Charles Erskine Scoot Wood is of an expansive and singular man of engaging personal growth, deeply and articulately responsive to both the world of nature and the injustice of the world, with a rare capacity for moving easily and without affectation between the sophisticated sphere of business, the professions, and high society, and the simpler circles of workers and artisans.

C.E.S. Wood was born February 20, 1852, in Erie, Pennsylvania, the second son of seven children (six boys and a girl) of Rosemary Carson and William Maxwell Wood, a navy surgeon, a Whig, and a friend of Zachary Taylor. Erskine, the name Wood preferred, remembered a stern father who imposed naval discipline upon his sons and a loving mother with deep violet eyes who insisted on strict observance of the Sabbath--no whistling, laughing, or "kicking down the leaves." Though descended from Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, founders of the "New Kirk" movement, a religious rebellion in Scotland aimed at liberalizing church doctrine, Rose was deeply aware of her subordinate role in the Wood ménage.

Surgeon Wood was on active duty for much of his career. In 1846, speaking fluent Spanish, he traveled incognito across Mexico delivering to Commodore Robert Stockton long-awaited word of the outbreak of war between the United States and Mexico, news that facilitated the acquisition of california. A few years later, serving with the Asiatic Squadron, he was on hand at the opening of Japan. He wrote several popular books about his experiences. Surgeon Wood had a substantial library of Spanish, French, and English classics. Here Erskine first read Cervantes (one of his father's favorites), Voltaire, and Swift. In his autobiographical notes, Wood writes that his father's "taste for classical literature, his ideas upon culture and manhood, his contempt for wealth as an object of sole pursuit in life, had an influence on my own character." Wood's literary imagination was also clearly affected by the romantic tales of adventure and exotic objects his father brought home from his voyages.

With the close of the Civil War, William Maxwell Wood, now Surgeon General of the Navy in recognition of his service with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, took his family from Erie to Rosewood Glen, a small farm in the rolling hill country on the outskirts of Baltimore and within convenient reach of his office in Washington.

In his manuscript autobiography (begun in 1913 but never completed), much of which reads like passages from Mark Twain, Erskine sees himself as a mix of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer with the Erie Canal serving as his Mississippi River. Erskine pictures his teen years on the Maryland farm in lyrical tones. The prevailing atmosphere in the Wood home was upper-middle-class conservative with order, duty, and propriety as cardinal virtues. But the beauty of the surroundings seems to have helped offset some of the harshness at home. A clear, swift-flowing stream threaded stands of oak, hickory, maple, and red gum hung with clusters of purple fox grapes. Spring brought trailing arbutus with its scatter of pink stars, and laurel, wild honeysuckle, and azaleas sweetened the woods. At Rosewood Glen, Erskine learned to ride horseback, swing the scythe and cradle, and to hunt possum and raccoon.

Erskine received his early education in private and public schools. In the fall of 1868, he enrolled as a day scholar in the St. Thomas School for Boys. He remembers most vividly the snuff-taking, cane-wielding "Old Murray" who taught English and Latin grammar, geography, history, and composition through a combination of intimidation and drill. Increasingly the teen-ager indulged his appetite for good reading in his father's library. He was also an avid reader of Mayne Reid's frontier stories and those, together with the sprawling pink expanse of the "Great American Desert" depicted in school geographies, set visions of the Wild West pulsing in his mind.

In the late spring of 1869, much to his surprise, Erskine's life took a dramatic turn. Surgeon Wood arranged an interview for his son with president U.S. Grant. Erskine remembers nothing of what transpired during his talk with the President except that Grant lit a new cigar from the glowing stump of an old one. Erskine marked this in his mind as a bad habit. The interview combined with his father's influence resulted in Erskine's appointment-at-large to the United States Military Academy.

There is nothing to suggest that C.E.Scott Wood, as he was invariably listed on the military rolls, coveted the career of a professional soldier. Except for top marks in military drawing and creditable performance in ethics and law, he was a mediocre student and his military record bordered on disgrace. Piling up demerits just short of dismissal, the young cadet spent most weekends walking off punishment tours. In four years he never held a cadet rank. Years later, in New York, Erskine wrote in his journal: "I never pass West Point without thinking of my cadet days...I hate the memory of it even now."

C.E. Scott Wood's class was unique in that it enrolled James Webster Smith of North Carolina, the first Black to enter the Academy. Erskine joined his classmates in consigning Smith to "Coventry," the silent treatment. That action drew a sharp reprimand from Erskine's father. Smith eventually was found deficient in natural and experimental philosophy and dismissed. Nearly forty years later, in 1912, Wood resigned from the Oregon Bar because it refused to admit a Black, one of many stands demonstrating Erskine's departure from his youthful conformity.

Cadet Wood resented what he considered to be undue emphasis on scientific and technical subjects in the West Point curriculum. Seeking relief, he did an unusual amount of extracurricular reading, checking out works by Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, and Sir Walter Scott, among others. He also found stimulation in the Academy's social scene, such as it was. He was an enthusiastic and graceful dancer and he often "led the German," a popular dance of the day. He was very handsome, quite the charmer, and amid the hops, cotillions, and flirtations he met and fell in love with Nanny Moale Smith, a Washington belle, who lived with her stepfather, Dr. Nathan Lincoln, a prominent Washington physician.

Casting desperately about for a way out of West Point, Erskine wrote letters home full of plans to resign and offer his services to the Mexican or Egyptian army or to go to Florida to grow oranges or, most frequently, to turn to a writing career. In a typical letter written to his son the cadet's fourth year, William Maxwell Wood expressed his disapproval of Erskine's restlessness in flat, measured, elegant prose: "It is this unreasonable desire to escape from the present to an unknown and uncertain future, which has from the beginning been one of the causes of your demerits...my earnest and final advice to you is to abandon all feverish desire after change and address yourself with honest and unceasing vigilance to the labor, the claims and obligations of the present around you---and of the place and position to which yo are called." The elder Wood's counsel prevailed, for when the class of 1874 was graduated, reduced from an entering strength of sixty-seven to forty-four, C.E. Scott Wood stood academically squarely in the middle.

Along with other Academy graduates of indifferent record, Wood was assigned to infantry duty on the frontier in the Department of the Pacific. In his late autobiographical notes he remembers inaccurately: "I tried to change into Custer's cavalry but the Adjutant General refused and thus saved my life." Actually, correspondence in the Huntington Library's Wood collection shows he tried to trade with another new officer who had a cavalry assignment but met with refusal.

The young "shavetail" reported first to Fort Bidwell, an outpost in the northeast corner of California. En route to Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, he permanent post, Lt. Wood marched with his company along the lonely stretches of southeastern Oregon. The journey through the Harney Desert worked a profound influence on the 23-year-old lieutenant. The world of his youth had been green and wooded, with water ever close at hand. Now Wood was learning a new conception of space and scale. The human figure was minuscule and much of the land lay stark and brooding all the way to the horizon. The line of march took the soldiers to the west of Steens Mountain, an extended ridge-like uplift, its upper reaches patched with perpetual snow, rising to nearly ten thousand feet, forming on the east a jagged escarpment with over a thousand feet of free fall. The high desert is gray with sagebrush, greasewood, and rabbit brush, mottled with tough, twisted juniper and mountain mahogany, broken and uplifted by ramparts of rimrock. There are alkali flats that glare under the sun or float like puddles of pewter beneath the desert moon. Steens Mountain is more than a dramatic landmark, for snowmelt and springs cascading down glacier-cut gorges along its flanks produce marshland and meadow in the Harney Basin. Wherever there is water--along the narrow valley of the Donner and Blitzen River, for example--there are natural meadows of wild hay, rich browse for cattle and sheep and wild horses. When Lt. Wood and his companions were passing through, early settlers such as John Devine and Pete French were developing an impressive range cattle industry in the region.

As they approached "P" Ranch, home place of Pete French, the troops camped at the southern tip of a long marsh that stretched north the Malheur and Harney lakes. Here tules, pondweed, cattails, reeds, and grasses of all kinds grew rank and high, providing perfect cover as well as food and nest material for more than two hundred species of waterfowl and wild birds. Lt. Wood rambled along the marsh's edge, wide-eyed at the teeming bird life on every side. The tules were hung with blackbirds, some of them red-epauletted, others with brilliant yellow heads. In a clearing were the matted sedge thinned out he counted more than thirty sandhill crane feeding quietly in the shallow water. The marsh fluttered with movement and rang with song--the sibilant notes of the blackbirds like air forced through a dusty flute, the muffled pile-driver boom of the bittern, the mewing cry of curlew and gull, the cacophony of countless ducks, the plaintive, monotonous shrill of killdeer and other sounds more or less musical but too muted or confused or unfamiliar for the young officer to sort out and identify. One species of wader caught Wood's fancy with its curved bill and its gleaming plumage of iridescent green and purple and bronze. He shot two of them, stretching the skins to dry in the sun, intending to send them to decorate the summer hats of Nanny Moale Smith, his sweetheart back east.

Years later, in his first effort at autobiography Erskine recalls with sensitive precision that night on the Harney Desert when he lay sleepless, feeling keenly "the isolation, the beauty, the solitude and hush and above all the vastness of the desert and the breathtaking sweep of the dark dome above with its busts of stars. "As the camp noises subsided, "a small owl, puffed up and mottled like a partridge, mounted a badger mound and stood solemn and still on legs long enough to seem borrowed. For some time the owl was mute and then it began its song, a tremulous, high, mellow coo-co-hoo, much like a dove but higher, fainter, incredibly soft."

The entire journey across the high desert of eastern Oregon affirmed the sense of freedom and expansiveness that the West had symbolized in Wood's boyhood. In a letter to Max Hayek, the translator of The Poet in the Desert, Erskine explains his love for eastern Oregon"

It means youth to me and the smell of sagebrush is the most delicious fragrance on earth: especially after a rain. Its blinding light, dazzling wide stretches--pale far purple mountain peaks--and the glorious skies are beautiful to my eyes--intoxicating beyond green mountains or sapphire sea.

Wood welcomed his new assignment. Vancouver was just across the Columbia River from Portland, a metropolis compared to Fort Bidwell. Yet Erskine did not forget the days and nights in the Harney Desert and he was drawn back to what he called, in The Poet in the Desert, "that lean and stricken land" many times until he knew its contours, its diversity, and its moods in intimate detail. In fact, the region was to run as a kind of theme through most of his life, and before he was done with the desert it would help turn him toward poetry, painting, and rebellion.

Stationed at Fort Vancouver, Wood grew restless. He had begun to keep a journal, a practice he would continue for much of his life. He also hoped to publish some of his writings back east. In the spring of 1877, he took a leave from his duties to escort a small expedition intent on climbing Mt. St. Elias. The party failed to reach the mountain but Wood collected stories and artifacts that would become the basis for an 1882 piece in Century Magazine called "Among the Thlinkits in Alaska." Noteworthy for its careful description and ethnographic detail, this article and A Book of Tales mark the beginning and ending of the first stage of Wood's writing career.

Lt. Wood had hoped to continue to explore Alaska, but in early June 1877 he was recalled to join his company that had taken the field in pursuit of Nez Perce Indians moving toward Canada to avoid confinement on the reservation at Lapwai, Idaho Territory. lt. Wood served creditably in this campaign, his baptism in fire, being one of only two white men to pursue the Nez Perce for the entire anabasis. As aide to general O.O. Howard, he was closely involved with the surrender negotiations on the morning of October 5th, gathering, through an interpreter, the gist of Joseph's sentiments regarding surrender. It is very likely that the young officer's literary bent moved him to shape the surrender speech, since become so famous, that he understood to have come from Joseph's lips. In fact, Lt. Wood's gift for phrasing goes far to explain the renown the speech has attained. The whole episode opened Wood's eyes to the power of the state to subdue a desperate and dignified people who were guilty simply of being in the way. Wood also bitterly resented Colonel Nelson Miles, who had entered the campaign only in its final stage, taking full credit for the Nez Perce surrender when it was Wood's commander, General O.O. Howard who had given chase to the Indians for nearly 2,000 miles. An indignant Wood released an account to the Chicago papers that corrected the false impression, thereby arousing Miles's ire and setting up a tension between lieutenant and general that became a factor in Wood's resignation seven years later. At any rate, from the time of the surrender, Erskine and Joseph became friends and later, during his teens, Wood's eldest son, Erskine, spent parts of two summers in Joseph's camp at Nespelem, Washington.

In 1878, Wood served with Howard in the campaign against the Bannocks. In November, after the defeat of the Bannocks led by Chief Moses, Wood, now a first lieutenant, returned east to marry nanny Moale Smith, his sweetheart of cadet days. He brought her back with him to Fort Vancouver. In February on 1879, Wood served as Howard's emissary to Chief Moses, handling the peace negotiations. That fall the Wood's first son Erskine was born at Vancouver Barracks.

With the Pacific Northwest secure, General Howard was appointed superintendent of the United States Military Academy and Erskine returned with him to the scene of his unhappy cadet experiences, this time as adjutant. A second Child, Nan, who was to become Oregon's first congresswoman, was born at West Point in 1881.

When Mark Twain made several visits to West Point to talk to the cadets, Erskine, as his host, delighted Twain by making a secret printing on the Academy Press of Twain's "1601," or Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors, the humorist's racy, rough-and-tumble reconstruction of talk in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Participants, including Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Duchess of Bilgewater, Ben Jonson, and others, gathered in the Queen's private chambers, discuss such bawdy topics as who has broken wind. Adjutant Wood put together a small but sumptuous edition of the unsigned scatological piece on deckle-edged vellum, stained in mild coffee to suggest age and using old English-style type to give a touch of elegance to the four-letter words. The Academy printing of "1601" circulated among the military "brass" and one copy went to John Hay and another to the Bishop of London. For a time Wood and Twain exchanged letters and the latter's influence on much of Wood's writing is apparent, especially in his satire. This publishing adventure affirms Wood's rebel soul, his literary leanings, and his interest in fine press printing, something he would retain all his life.

By 1882, Wood was considering the law as an escape from the army. Citing earlier duty as judge advocate in the Department of the Columbia and arguing that formal training in law would approve his military efficiency, he secured a leave of absence to enroll in Columbia University, where he earned a B.S. and an LL.B. in 1883.

While in New York, Erskine formed what would become an abiding friendship with the painter J. Alden Weir, son of Wood's instructor in military drawing at West Point. Weir brought the lieutenant-on-leave into a small bohemian circle of artists and agents, including sculptor Olin Warner; A.W. Drake, art editor of Century; the impressionist painters Wyatt Eaton and Childe Hassam; and the eccentric and mystic, Albert Pinkham Ryder. Wood reveled in the company of this creative crew that gathered in a French restaurant on the south side of Washington Square or at a saloon on the corner of 14th and 4th to talk of European art trends or to deride the Hudson River School and denounce the sterility and inhibitions of the artistic establishment. Here, Erskine's penchant for rebellion took on another dimension.

In March 1883, law degree in hand, Lt. Wood was relieved of duty on Howard's staff and sent to Boise Barracks, Idaho Territory, to join his regiment. Nanny, with the two children Erskine and Nan and a third child, William Maxwell, about to arrive, were in Fort Vancouver. Erskine tried desperately for assignment to Vancouver. Extended military correspondence, in which Wood skirted insubordination, earned the insistent lieutenant what amounted to a reprimand from commanding General Miles; whereupon Erskine submitted a resignation that was promptly accepted, effective September 22, 1884. At 32, C.E.S. Wood turned to life in Portland and the practice of law.

In 1884, Portland was a prosperous shipping town of over 20,000 population, known as the Boston of the West. Located in a temperate, green region west of the Cascade Range, the city lies along the shores of the Willamette River close to is juncture with the Columbia. To the west are the Coast Range and the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles away. The Willamette Valley spreads to the south.

On a clear day several white mountain tops glisten to the east--Mt. Hood the most prominent. Portland was and is a wet, grey-green, blossomy town, especially beautiful in the spring and fall. As the century turned, the city became famous for Helen Corbett's cow that grazed in the backyard of her mansion in the downtown district. Portland was on the edge of explosive economic and population growth. A deep-water harbor combined with the completion of the Northern Pacific railroad the year before to provide rich opportunities for the expansion of shipping and transportation. It was logical that the fledgling attorney on the brink of a new career would specialize at first in maritime law. In 1893, Judge Matthew Deady jotted his estimate in his diary: "Mr. CES Wood (too many initials) has delivered a couple of briefs this week that show a good deal of original thought and much care, research and taste. He ought to succeed at the bar." This praise from "Oregon's Justinian" augured well for Wood's future. In fact, by the turn of the century, Colonel Wood was recognized as an effective trial lawyer with a substantial practice in maritime and corporation law. He also came to represent the international banking firm of Lazard Freres as land agent for a sprawling military wagon road grant winding across Oregon from Albany in the Willamette Valley to Ontario at the Idaho line.

When the Woods arrived, they were welcomed into the homes of the Portland aristocracy, with whom they had become acquainted while stationed in Vancouver. The first years were difficult financially. In his memoir of his father, Erskine Wood recalls a family story that illustrates their early life in Portland:

We lived in a little house on what was then Tenth Street, and the Failings, one of Portland's most prominent families, were giving a fancy-dress ball, and my mother had no dress. So she took down some muslin curtains, white with black and red spots, and mae a dress out of them; and since my parents naturally had no carriage my father took a box, lined it with furs which he had brought back from Alaska, and tucked my mother in it and pulled her through the snow down to the large and luxurious Failing house where the party was going on.

The unconventional, resourceful joie de vivre this story reveals is vital in understanding C.E.S. Wood as both writer and man.

In 1887, Wood was taken into Oregon's first law firm--Durham & Ball--that became Williams Ach & Wood when he joined. George Williams, U.S. senator for Oregon from 1864 to 1871, was also a member of the firm. Clients included the Port of Portland, the Great Northern Railroad, the Ladd & Tilton Bank, Henry Weinhard, Portland Flouring Mills, and the Ladd, Corbett, Flanders, and Meade families.

In an essential way, "Ces" Wood, as he was known downtown, was a very solid citizen, demonstrating pervasive and persistent leadership in Portland's cultural development. When Stephen Skidmore, early Portland druggist and council man, bequeathed the city $5,000 for the design and construction of a fountain, Wood arranged for the work to be done by his friend of New York days, Olin Warner, sculptor of the doors of the Library of Congress. The Skidmore Fountain, that still graces the intersection of First and Ankeny, was dedicated in September 1888, and stands today as one of Portland's premier cultural landmarks. Erskine also wrote the slogan inscribed on the fountain's base: "Good citizens are the riches of a city." He was a founding trustee of the Portland Art Museum and one of the early directors of the Portland Library Association. As early as 1889, Wood proposed holding an annual rose show in may or June, an event Portlanders know as Rose Festival. He was a charter member of the exclusive Arlington Club and was in demand all over town as after-dinner speaker. He moved easily within the select circle of Portland's partrician families, both as legal advisor and friend. He and his socially prominent wife and their five children (Lisa and Berwick were the last two born) lived in a house with five fireplaces and a large garden on "the Heights," a lovely residential section of the city's west side. The children were being educated in the east. Surely, here was the image of a proper Oregonian.

But there was quite another side to the attorney and man of affairs, an artistic, romantic, and rebellious side. In dress and appearance "Ces" Wood suggested the poet or bohemian rather than the professional man. Sporting a full beard and longish hair, he worked in loose, tweed suites and soft shirts and if his pants were not always creased, he paid no mind. In the summer, he wore sandals. His evening costume included ruffled silk shirts with opal cuff links that set off to full advantage the heavy, handsome beard he had worn since his army days. With his curly hair, his wide-set luminous eyes, a soft, broad-brimmed Stetson, and a flaring, black military cape to turn the Oregon rain, he made a commanding and dramatic figure.

The household of C.E.S. Wood established on Ford Street (now Vista Drive), like the man himself, was a fascinating blend of contradictions. Along with other prominent Portland families--the Henry Failings, the W.B. Ayers, the Charles Ladds, the H.W. Corbetts--the Woods presided over a large house that expressed hospitality, comfort, and dignity. Nanny Wood was a handsome and cultivated woman with a passion for flowers and music, an unerring sense of the social graces, and a firm belief in the responsibility of the well-off to ease the plight of the less fortunate. Barbara Hartwell, a neighbor and friend of the family, remembers her as completely charming, "a combination of the utterly natural and the woman of the world." Yet the Wood home set itself apart from other distinctive Portland residences. It was, in Mrs. Hartwell's words: "Bohemia without shabbiness; unconventional, but shot through with conventionality like changeable silk......[it was] the world of art, music, literature, and also the world of 'who's who' and society Bluebook and the I.W.W."

The furnishings expressed a love of rare, exotic, and original things. Rich tapestries hung from the walls along with paintings by Albert Pinkham Ryder, Weir, Childe Hassam, A.L. Brennan, and Wood himself. There were tall shelves crammed with books, many of them redolent of hand-tooled leather, some of them unexpurgated translations of Petronius, Boccaccio, and Rabelais. Tall-backed Spanish chairs, Persian handicrafts, brass urns, Olin Warner's medallions of members of the Wood family and of Indian chiefs, oriental rugs and vases, figurines in porcelain and glass, statuary, and Indian masks filled the house with such an overflow of precious things that guests were startled by plunging horses from the Parthenon threatening them in the shower. If the taste revealed was electic, it was nonetheless sound.

The Woods made an art of entertaining, serving venison haunch or hams stuffed with honey or canvasbacks couched in cress and served with wild rice and spiced huckleberries or the Colonel's famous possum stew. The dining room, gleaming in candlelight, was heavy with fragrance of spices and wine. The conversation crackled with wit and irreverence, encouraged by the host, who would often enthrall the assembled with a tale from his Indian-fighting days. He was a superb storyteller. Holidays and birthdays called for family and neighborhood festivals with the reading of poetry and the presentation of masques written by the head of the house. At the Woods' one might meet bankers, painters, labor radicals, Northwest Indians, anarchists, editors, railroad magnates, or poets. There were parties where signs such as "Gamble for God's sake" shocked or shamed guests into contributions to a current cause. Erskine delighted in sending subscriptions of The Masses to "hide-bound conservatives." The overriding impression was one of elegance and ease but there was enough of the incongruous and mildly improper in the home to lend originality and pungency.

As the unconventionality of his dress and home suggest, Colonel Wood had not lost his creative impulse. The journals and notebooks of his military years are packed with perceptive, graceful descriptions of his surroundings--the streaming forests, the twisted canyons and white waters of northern Idaho and western Montana, the harbor at Sitka, and above all, the rimrock, rabbit brush and sage stretches of southeastern Oregon. He drew on these materials in his writing and he continued the notebook habit as his legal and business dealings kept him on the move to St. Paul, to Washington, D.C., and out into the Harney Desert to check on the vast land grant for lazard Freres. Armed with a battery of sturdy, thick-barreled fountain pens clipped to his vest, he wrote on trains, in depots, alongside irrigation ditches, and around campfires, recording bits of dialogue with a Twainian ear for speech patterns, ideas for stories, sketches of situations for later development, songs, sonnets, occasional poems, vignettes, aphorisms, philosophical musings, and nature notes. All through Erskine's notebooks shine his love of beauty and his asthetic relish of the world.

Inseparable from his literary urge was a growing radicalism that stood in stark contradiction to the conservative core of his legal work. As his practice grew, he came to feel that too often in the clash between property rights and human rights the latter were sacrificed. The Indian wars provided glaring examples and he found the pattern repeated as he represented private utilities, shipping interests, railroads, banks, and other powerful financial agencies. In a letter to Helena kay, author of a 1937 Master's thesis on his writing, he explains the development of his ideas concerning the economic and social order:

I saw that the trouble was we were living in a feudal system, and by the old feudal fee simple deed, we were giving to a few shrewd forerunners the people's heritage and creating a small group of feudal barons who owned all and who were willing the people should multiply to become fighters and industrial serfs. Even when as a young lieutenant I was campaigning against the wild men of the desert, the desert had got into my blood, [and] I saw this going in fee simple to cattle and sheep men, the water all seized, no place for hopeful settlement, and the great forests also stolen by the fee simple deed, a corrupt or ignorant congress, and some organized perjury. I saw everything of value taken usually by some form of fraud--water power, oil, iron, coal, copper--everything.

Wood's libertarian views were shaped in part from reading in Jefferson, Thoreau, Marx, the French Anarchist Proudhon, the Russian anarchist Kropotkin, and single-taxer Henry George. Wood subscribed to benjamin Tucker's Liberty, an organ of American anarchism that served, after the turn of the century, as an outlet for his increasing literary flow, playing an important part in his apprenticeship as a writer and a social thinker. Wood came to believe in the doctrine of right and beneficial use, the concept that land and water should be owned by those who use it productively, not by the grantees and their heirs and assigns, in perpetuity. Privilege and class distinctions violated Wood's sense of justice.

Erskine's broad philosophy of freedom that he called philosophical anarchism, the belief that the best way to assure one's own freedom was to insure the freedom of others, carried over into aspects of his personal life. There it involved their children, who were given the maximum amount of freedom consistent with their own safety. Barbara hartwell writes of them: "They were utterly uninhibited before anyone even heard the word; their personalities were allowed to ramble richly at will...." When he wa criticized for excessive permissiveness, Erskine responded: "Doubtless I made many mistakes, but I preferred to err on the side of minimum restraint, having been subjected to its maximum operation in my childhood."

The turn of the century marks a serious shift in Wood's life in Portland. His interest in the law waned and his urge to write intensified; his passion for his wife subsided into affection, and his philosophical anarchism cohered, strengthening his radical stance.

The most crucial aspect of Erskine's personal rebellion was his rejection of the institution of marriage. He saw monogamy as a kind of tyranny that stifled freedom. He could not accept the idea that two people sign a piece of paper that binds them together no matter how they change or what is in their hearts. In his own case, the marriage ties were not holding. Nanny's health was uncertain. She suffered from chronic headaches and in 1891 and for several years after she spent a great deal of time at a spa in Colorado Springs. Husband and wife grew apart, taking vacations alone and sleeping in separate rooms. Moreover, Erskine was a handsome, articulate, charming, and romantic figure. Beautiful women found him most attractive and he in turn was attracted to them. Sometime around the turn of the century, his secretary for the Lazard Freres account, Kitty Beck, a sensitive and appealing woman with radical sympathies, became his lover. The gap separating him from Nanny widened, although his affection for her remained strong.

Between 1900 and the entry of the United States into World War I, "Ces" Wood was in full stride, shifting the focus of his interests and spreading his energies in an ever-widening arc. His law practice was varied, demanding, and lucrative, although he tended to live beyond his means. He was increasingly intrigued with a life in literature and art and at the same time he was committed to progressive and radical social reform. He was for years on the edge of negotiating the sale of the wagon road grant for his employer Lazard Freres, and that took him out to the Harney Desert summer after summer where he stayed with his friend Bill Hanley at either the Flying O or the P Ranch. As was true from his early days in Portland, he continued to play a leading role in community affairs, especially in the cultural sphere, and with burgeoning interest, he continued to write.

Colonel Wood's first book cam in response to a request by his 14-year-old son, Maxwell, and his friend Lewis A. McArthur, the future compiler of Oregon Geographic Names, for a manuscript to print on a small hand press that the boys called the Attic Press. Wood drew on his army notebooks to produce A Book of Takes, a collection of Indian myths of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest retold by Wood, plus one tale of his own devising. Published in 1901, it brings Wood's first stage as a writer to a close.

Three years earlier, Lischen Miller, Eugene poet, dramatist, amateur actress, and sister-in-law of Joaquin Miller, "the Poet of the Sierras," had solicited Erskine's help with a new promotional and literary magazine, Pacific Monthly, that was to be for more than a decade the foremost literary journal in the Pacific Northwest; Wood was a shareholder and his good friend Charlie Ladd was, for a time, the primary financial backer. Wood served his apprenticeship as a writer with Pacific Monthly. He was by far its most frequent contributor, writing often under outlandish pseudonyms--Felix Benguait, Gustave Korter, Orrin Seaman--and providing verse, short stories, book reviews, art criticism, and a monthly commentary, "Impressions," under his own name where he unloaded unorthodox opinions on contemporary topics with a bold and vigorous independence. Wood was in good company in Pacific Monthly, appearing with national and regional writers such as Jack London, Ella Higginson, George Sterling, Mary Austin, John Muir, Charles Warren Stoddard, and John Reed. Erskine was also publishing fiction, verse, and social protest in Benjamin Tucker's Liberty, in New York; Marion Reedy's Mirror, in St. Louis; and Louis Post's Public, in Chicago.

Wood's radicalism was not confined to print. When Emma Goldman was denied a podium in Portland, Erskine came to her rescue, gave her legal representation, and appeared defiantly upon the public platform to introduce her to audiences in the city. In like manner, he defended margaret Sanger and her right to disseminate birth control information. During her trial Erskine called Portland a "backwoods town." He made it known that he supported the Industrial Workers of the World, the I.W.W., and he helped defend the "Wobblies," as they were called, arrested in Everett, Washington, in 1916. Wood wrote an appellate brief, "Free Speech and the Constitution in the War," defending Marie Equi, an Oregon physician imprisoned for speaking against World War I; she called it, among other things, "the big barbecue." Wood's brief, an eloquent defense of free speech in time of war, was read into the Congressional Record. He also took the case of Floyd Ramp, a Eugene socialist farmer arrested when he asked soldiers on a troop transport train if they knew what they were fighting for.

Although "Ces" Wood was a lifelong Democrat and, in 1904, ran for the U.S. Senate, he was too much an individualist ever to be considered a party man. For a time, Henry George's single tax intrigued him, as did direct legislation (initiative, referendum, recall, and direct election of senators), and he had a hand in forging the instruments of Progressive reform as C.C.Chapman, founder and editor of the Oregon Voter, pointed out: "Colonel Wood was consulted by Bre'r U'Ren...and the effect of his advice was to simplify into an orderly arrangement much that was complicated and confusing." On other political issues, Erskine supported Abigail Scott Duniway in her drawn-out struggle to win women the vote, backed harry lane's fight for municipal reform, and campaigned for Woodrow Wilson because he promised to keep the United States out of War.

Throughout his years in Oregon, Wood was in demand as a public speaker. Representative speaking engagements in 1913 included: toastmaster for the Portland Press Club; an address on land monopoly to the Mutualists, a cooperative body; a Robert Burns birthday banquet oration; a lecture before a chapter of the American Institute of Banking on the responsibilities of bankers to society; a Portland Library talk on "What is Art?" and a speech at a Universalist church on "The Value of the Beautiful in Life." In the election year of 1916, Erskine's topics were more political and included, among others, addresses on responsible government, causes of war, lack of labor solidarity, anarchism, the hysteria of preparedness and patriotism, and the right of free speech.

Yet, no matter how harshly he criticized special privilege and the prevailing social order, Wood continued to make his living by serving exemplars of the system he tilted against. he explained that he choose to play by the rules that ran society, maintaining all the while his right to advocate radical changes in those rules or in the very structure of society itself. When Emma Goldman chided Erskine for this activities in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, Wood simply responded, "Emma, I take any wagon going my way."

In 1904, Wood published A Masque of Love, a three-part drama that questions matrimony and monogamy; this marked a significant change in Wood's writing and the beginning of his second phase as a writer. At around the same time, he began to celebrate Christmas by sending out Christmas messages, often exquisitely printed, intended, he claimed, not as poetry or literature but as "sarcasm and propaganda." Wood's Christmas pieces most often attack the hypocrisy of Christianity and the commercialization of Christmas. The themes in A Masque of Love and Christmas pieces reflect the views he expressed in prose in Pacific Monthly and other publications. Though firmly ensconced in Portland's aristocracy, Wood was growing increasingly discontented with the sociopolitical system. This was the Progressive era and Wood held conspicuously progressive views.

Wood's radical pronouncements did occasionally rankle members of the Portland power structure. In her oral history, recorded in the Bancroft Library, Sara Bard Field remembers that T.B. Wilcox, head of the Portland Flouring Mills and one of the law firm's most influential and wealthy clients, came to Wood and threatened to fire him if he didn't rein in his radicalism, especially his support of labor unions. He was, Wilcox insisted, "going around talking everything that's against the way of life that we all live by and that we believe in." Furious at the suggestion that he could be bought off, Wood refused to muzzle himself and told Wilcox to find another lawyer. It is a measure of Erskine's standing among Portland attorneys that Wilcox backed off and Wood continued to represent Portland Flouring Mills.

Wood's creative writing and social criticism were crowded into an already busy life but clearly it was where his heart lay. He set up a two-room office in the Chamber of Commerce building separate from the law offices of his firm. One room was needed to accommodate the increasingly complex wagon road grant Wood managed for Lazard Freres; the other was a studio where he withdrew at the end of the working day and on Sundays to write or sketch or paint or, as Alfred Powers puts it in History of Oregon Literature, to spend "relaxed and happy hours with...poets, artists, scholars, philosophers, and social reformers." This was the existence he cared about; here he was nourished and sustained in a way denied him in his profession.

Since his arrival in Portland, Erskine had sought to transfer some of his passion for modern American painting, Impressionism in particular, to the Portland business and professional community. Drawing on his contacts in New York and Connecticut he worked to place paintings by Ryder, Weir, and Hassam in the homes of wealthy Portlanders. He strove to wean the Corbetts and the Ladds and the Ayers from purchases of European art and get them to patronize the New York circle in which he had such faith. Over many years, Erskine corresponded with J. Alden Weir and those letters, full of negotiations designed to transfer paintings from eastern studios to the western shore, attest to "Ces" Wood's continuing function as arbiter of taste for Portland patricians. In fact, he has been called perhaps the most important art dealer in Portland's history.

In mid-October 1910, Erskine met Sara Bard Field Ehrgott, a woman thirty years younger that he who influenced his writing and changed his life. Married to a Baptist minister, Albert Ehrgott, a man inclined toward the Social Gospel but conservative in matters of doctrine, Sara had gone with him to Burma and then to Cleveland, where she helped elect the reform mayor, Tom Johnson. Again the church called, this time to Oregon. Dismayed, Sara saw the move to Portland as imposing a kind of cultural and social exile. Her friend Clarence Darrow, whom she knew through her older sister, mary Field, suggested that she get in touch with Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who, he assured her, was a force for liberalism in the Pacific Northwest.

As it turned out, when on a speaking engagement in Portland, Darrow invited Sara and Erskine to dinner at a Portland restaurant and saw to it that they sat next to one another. The two found common footing at once. He hungered to discuss literature and reform and so did she. Sara had studied briefly with Professor Thomas R. Lounsberry at Yale and was writing poetry. A friendship developed rapidly. Eager for criticism, Erskine asked the young woman to look over some of his writing that had piled up in a chest in his literary retreat. Here Sara came across a notebook of free verse impressions of the eastern Oregon high desert. Sara was convinced that the material held great promise. Stimulated and encouraged by her suggestions and enthusiasm, Erskine expanded and shaped the verse fragments into the long poem that he considered his major creative work. The poem appeared first in 1914 under the uninspired title "Civilization." The next year it was published by Baltes Press in Portland as The Poet in the Desert.

In order to understand Wood's literary career, the reader must realize that he was reborn as a writer and a man in his relationship with Sara. In her he found someone who affirmed the relationship with Sara. In her he found someone who affirmed the direction he wished to go. Sara was not only a beautiful woman; her political views, devotion to poetry, and intelligence matched Erskine's They were soul mates, something both of her children with Ehrgott, Albert and Kay, testified to. Erskine's relationship with Sara begins his most prolific and powerful writing period, the second decade of the twentieth century.

Between 1914 and 1915, Erskine reached a crossroads in his life and career. World War I had begun and Wood became galvanized in opposition to it. He campaigned or Woodrow Wilson, who was against U.S. military involvement, consonant with the strong isolationist mood in the country. In a 1916 speech, printed in a pamphlet "Is This a War for Democracy," Wood called the war, "dirty trade for dirty dollars."

Also in 1914, Max Eastman, an editor of the radical magazine The Masses, asked Wood for a contribution, perhaps something humorous. Wood responded with several satirical dialogues that he called collectively "Heavenly Discourse." Here he lampooned prudery and evangelism, but took special aim at the war effort and its abrogation of free speech. Ten discourses appeared before the magazine was barred from the mails in 1917.

Politically, the situation became less comfortable for Wood. His antiwar activities brought his patriotism into question. He came under the investigation of clarence Reams, Assistant U.S. Attorney General, for writing an antiwar pamphlet, "Ave! Caesar. Imperative. Morituri Te Salutant." In his letter to his superior, the U.S. Attorney General, Reames clears Erskine of any unpatriotic activity but he does suggest Wood to be "nat a safe man to advise the President, especially relative to labor conditions." Reames also acknowledges that Wood "has a lot of friends, and a great deal of influence in the community."

During this same period, the rift in the Wood household had become irreparable. Although nanny Wood was a devoted mother and a valuable asset to her husband in maintaining a gracious social milieu, she found herself linked with a man whose passion for exploration and intensity of experience was foreign to her nature. She simply was unable to share his enthusiasm for art and anarchy. Moreover, for several years her husband's relationship with Sara Ehrgott had involved a good deal more than intellectual companionship. Given his views of marriage as a voluntary union resting on mutual affection and understanding, vividly rendered in A Masque of Love, Erskine was prepared to defy convention and seek a life with Sara devoted to creative writing at whatever the price in pain and suffering to all concerned. Since Erskine recognized his financial obligation to his family, such a break would be costly materially was well as emotionally and although his law practice was lucrative enough, his penchant for spending beyond his means kept the attorney in debt. light on Wood's lack of frugality come s from this excerpt from son Erskine's memoir of his father:

It was not only fine books that my father loved, he really loved all things of beauty--fine paintings, sculpture, Oriental rugs, ancient Greek glass, the art of China and Japan ....He also liked jewelry, opals and star sapphires, and particularly the pure yellow unalloyed gold rings and jade settings that the old Chinese jewelers used to make in Chinatown in Portland, among whom my father had some friends.

Wood delighted in the physical world, especially when it gathered into loveliness. he bought real estate not as an investment but for the beauty of the land--and lost money. This sensuous apprehension of the world, of both nature and art, is another pervasive element of Wood's sensibility and of his writing.

Fortuitously, the sale of the wagon road grant that Wood had been negotiating for some years was consummated in 1918. The generous commission--one million dollars paid over several years--permitted Erskine to set up a number of trust funds for his Portland family and freed him to retire from law practice and move to California with Sara, who had gone to Nevada, obtained a divorce, and moved to the Bay area. However, nanny's Catholicism, combined with her indignation, compelled her to refuse her husband a divorce.

Erskine and Sara hoped to start a new life together, one devoted to poetry and their shared vision of a just society, but Wood found it difficult to extricate himself for the web of relationships and loyalties that thirty years in Portland had woven.

Wood and Sara spent much of the fall of 1918 in San Francisco. Sara, who had just learned to drive, took Erskine and her two children, Kay and Albert, for an outing in Marin County. On a steep road the car overturned, killing Albert and nearly severing one of Sara's legs. Wood stayed with Sara a good part of the spring, nursing her back to health. The accident and the payment from the wagon road sale shook Erskine loose from Portland. In the lat spring of 1919, they bought a house at 1020 Broadway on Russian Hill in San Francisco.

In 1918 and 1919, though it was a difficult and traumatic time, Wood was quite productive, turning out Maia and Sonnets along with a revision of The Poet in the Desert in 1918 and Circe, A Drama with a Prologue in 1919. Maia expresses Erskine's love of nature and of Sara. Sonnets, called "Personal Sonnets" or "Garden Sonnets," is dedicated to his family. Circe makes the power of human love supreme. The revision of The Poet in the Desert affirms Wood's radicalism and his devotion to poetry, clarifying his vision and shedding much of the blatant propaganda of the 1915 version. It was a significant artistic and psychological feat for Wood to complete during this time four books, each of which deals with a key element in his life. No doubt the increase in his financial fortunes assisted, but his need to present his case in poetry is clearly primary.

The poets' house overlooked San Francisco Bay from Russian Hill. Angled into a corner lot, it featured an enclosed garden and a steep stairway to the front door. Soon after moving in Sara suffered a breakdown, an aftermath of the loss of her son. She hovered near death for several days. Her recovery was slow. Wood and Sara's daughter, Kay, cared for her together, forging a bond. In fact, kay grew to prefer "Pops," her name for Erskine, to her real father. The divorce settlement stipulated that Wood not be present when Sara's children came to visit. Once, due to a misunderstanding, Ehrgott found Wood and Sara together when he brought Kay for a visit. "You killed your son," he shouted at Sara over and over as he spirited Kay away. Neither Wood nor Sara wrote much during this time, although both had poems in Debs and the Poets, a tribute to Eugene V. Debs, the socialist leader imprisoned for this opposition to World War I.

In 1920, San Francisco hosted the Democratic Convention. Both Erskine and Sara attended as reporters for small, radical publications; among them was max Eastman's Liberator. The failure of the left and a new conservative tone in american politics made the convention depressing but the week was enlivened by visits to their home by William Allen White, the progressive Republican editor of the Emporia Gazette, novelist Edna Ferber, and William Marion Reedy, editor of the radical journal Reedy's Mirror, one of Wood's venues. "The Flowering Wall," the name they gave their house, became a meeting place for writers, artists, musicians, labor leaders, civil libertarians and others of liberal persuasion. Erskine and Sara befriended a young Ansel Adams. The novelist and lecturer John Cowper Powys came with his brother Llewelyn, who remembers Wood as "Some magnificent old chieftain, victor of a hundred battles....this old, unrelenting, white-maned lion of Oregon." They met the young and beautiful poet Genevieve Taggard, as well as the generous patron of the arts, Albert Bender, who connected them with the Grabhorn brothers who would print several of their books. George Sterling, the Bohemian poet, roused them out of bed at least once. They also formed a friendship with Noel Sullivan, heir to two fortunes and supporter of langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, and Roland Hayes. The muchraking editor of The San Francisco Bulletin, Fremont Older, visited often. The two poets joined the Bay area community of cultural progressives with gusto and were living as they had hoped they might.

Erskine and Sara put their support behind a school for theater arts directed by Maurice Browne and Ellen Van Volkenburg. Browne began the little theater movement in Chicago in 1912, giving rise to hundreds of other little theaters across the country in the next few years. He arrived in San Francisco in 1921 and operated a theater and offered experimental acting classes. Browne's troupe performed Wood's Odysseus and gave space to Blanding Sloan's Puppet Theater which adapted some of Heavenly Discourse for production. Sloan's version of Erskine's satire caused something of a sensation. He took liberties with the text, rearranging material and adding questionable scenes, including one of a naked Eve perched provocatively on God's lap while being fondled. The police raided the show and closed it down. Wood would not allow it to reopen, even though a repentant Sloan promised to rewrite the script.

San Francisco's fog, together with constant interruptions of their writing by visitors, led Wood to acquire, as a potential retreat, 34 acres of wooded hillside above Los Gatos, a small town fifty miles south of San Francisco, just west of San Jose at the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz mountains. The two poets spent time at first in a small shack on the property, cooking in a stone fireplace and reading to one another of an evening. Before building on the property, they took Lincoln Steffens's advice to scout out Europe as a possible place to live and in January 1924, Erskine, Sara, and Kay sailed for Italy, docking in Naples, From Sorrento as a base they made excursions to Sicily, saw Greek tragedies at Syracuse, and visited St. Peter's cathedral in Rome, a visit that may well have inspired one of Erskine's most delightful poems, "Billy Craddock in Rome."

After four months in Italy and Sicily, Wood received word that his commissions from the land grant sale were being taxed as annual income, threatening his financial security. The three travelers booked passage home but not before visiting Paris, Vienna, Florence, London, and Normandy. In Paris they met with Ezra Pound, who liked Erskine's satiric conversations but felt Wood's lampooning of American society was too mild. Also in Paris, the three served as the only witnesses tot he marriage of lincoln Steffens and Ella (he called her Peter) Winter. At the reception they were joined by Louise Bryant, John Reed's widow, and her new husband, William C. Bullitt.

They returned to New York in September 1924 and stayed there for several months, visiting friends and equipping Kay for college at the University of Wisconsin. Wood traveled back and forth between New York and Washington, consulting with lawyers and working on the income tax case. By December of 1924, Sara and Erskine were back in California, having decided to build on their hill in Los Gatos.

House-building got under way in the second week of December 1924. At Erskine's suggestion architect William Steilberg abandoned the idea of view as the paramount consideration. Instead. the house would rise from the hollow in harmony with its hill background with the slope or "run-away" in the foreground and protected from the wind. The house resembled a thick staple set into the flank of the hill and enclosing an inner court that was studded with flowers and shrubs up toward and merging with the hill's crest rimmed by live oak and eucalyptus. Thus the house set squarely across the watershed facing the descent that leveled off a lovely cluster of oaks, forming, with the gently slope of the grove, a small natural theater. As it worked out, the view of Los Gatos. San Jose, then mostly fruit trees, to the Diablo Range, was partitioned rather than lost, coming in broken vistas through the trees instead of in one staring panorama. A steep and narrow road wound down to the highway where two ten-feet-tall stone felines sculpted by Robert Paine, one half asleep, the other open-eyed, guarded the entrance and passed on the name of the town, Los Gatos, to the hillside dwelling, The Cats.

The finished house of concrete blocks was deceptive, seeming more massive and spacious than it actually was. There was a long living room with a cavernous fireplace, three bedrooms, a basement garage and a solarium over the living room roof. Up against the outside of the great chimney, looking out over the court, rose sculptor Ralph Stackpole's figure of maia, a huge primeval woman with tree-trunk thighs and "breasts like the ever lasting hills." Below Maia, Ray Boynton executed a mosaic of two naked figures holding out their hands to catch manna. Sculptor Beniamino Bufano cast a bas relief of two figures sitting beneath the tree of poetry for the south wall of the courtyard, fired with a special blue glaze he brought back from China (a trip Wood financed), at the center of which were a boy and girl, arms intertwined. All in all, this was a house of originality, charm, and power, built to defy fire and storm and earthquake but receptive to the sun.

Shortly after acquiring the hill acres, Colonel Wood had set out what he called a "mountain vineyard," so that The Cats might produce wine as well as writing. Erskine was fascinated by the ancient process of wine making, the fecundity of the earth, the storing and saving for the bare, cold days, the sculpturesque postures of the workers about the press, their arms purpled to the elbows, the rich autumnal tints that hung around them as tapestries. Moreover, the knowledge that more than two hundred gallons of wine drawn from the upper and lower vineyards were bubbling and fermenting in the basement beneath the house in sublime defiance of the Volstead Act delighted the Colonel's anarchist soul.

Assisted by their loyal help, Vincent and Mary Marengo, Erskine and Sara created beautiful grounds with an unusual variety of trees--native oaks, redwood, and madrone, as well as olive trees, cypresses, and a lemon grove. The Cats was their monument to their love and to poetry. On the bluff to the south of the house, two friends erected a tandem bust of erskine and Sara. On Wood's side, the inscription reads'

     I know for everyone
     were he but bold
     Surely along some
     Starry path
     His soul awaits him.

Sara's side reads:

     Had we not clutched
     love flying by
     Where had you been
     Where had I?

In poetry, they declared their love for each other and for the fate that brought them together.

They moved into the house in November of 1925, beginning the happiest time of their lives; they were together in a beautiful place, close to many good friends and able to devote themselves to their writing. Erskine and Sara looked upon The Cats as a refuge from distractions. At first, in fair weather, they worked at stone tables and benches under bay trees; when the California rains came, they withdrew to opposite ends of a long table in the living room. Later on, to gain privacy from a stream of visitors, they built a small house with a kitchen and two writing rooms a few hundred feet above the main house. A dedication, "To Poetry," was hardened in cement on the kitchen wall and the beams of the writing rooms carried quotations. Here the poets set their own pace, able to claim they were not at home when unannounced visitors called at the main house.

Encouraged by writers and friends, Erskine set about revising and bringing up to date his satiric discourse. When he finished in 1926, there were forty conversations, about double the number in existence when The Masses was denied use of the mails. Two years later, Jacob Baker, head of New York's Vanguard Press, brought out Heavenly Discourse in a fifty-cent edition of three thousand, with a flattering introduction by Floyd Dell and eight line drawings by Art Young, former Masses cartoonist and communist. To the surprise of Vanguard and the delight of the author, the first printing was rapidly exhausted. Public demand persisted, requiring a succession of printings and several editions, each of which, after 1928, contained a forty-first discourse dealing with the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti.

After more than a score of printings by Vanguard, Heavenly Discourse came out as a Penguin paperback in 1946 and in 1953 there was a Danish translation. The Colonel's confidence from the start that the book make its own way was thoroughly vindicated.

In 1929, Grabhorn Press of San Francisco printed a collection of Erskine's western verse, poems from the Ranges, that stands as a lyric tribute to the Harney Basin region of eastern Oregon he loved so much. The success of Heavenly Discourse prompted Vanguard in 1929 to reprint Erskine's A Book of Tales as A Book of Indian Tales and a revised edition of The Poet in the Desert.

In 1931, Erskine wrote a book of irascibly eloquent, rambling essays against governmental interference with individual liberty called Too Much Government that focuses on prohibition, but other favorite targets--censorship, patriotism, prudery, privilege, militarism--also come under attack. Nearing eighty years old, Wood still wrote with grace and fire. This publication was followed by Earthly Discourse, a return to satire, published in 1937, but he could not duplicate the success of Heavenly Discourse and, appropriately, considering its title, the book never got off the ground. Over these years Erskine was also constantly revising Sonnets to Sappho (privately printed), a sequence of fifty-five sonnets attesting to his love for Sara in his later years. He began but did not complete a historical narrative designed to show his father's role in the acquisitions of California. Finally, early in 1940, Wood made a second start on his memoirs, begun in Portland as early as 1913.

Meanwhile, his beloved companion, Sara, was also working at her craft. In the year of Heavenly Discourse, Sara's The Pale Woman appeared. Five years later, in 1932, her Barabbas, a dramatic narrative poem with a religious theme, won the California Book Club's award for the best literary work by a Californian. Darkling Plain (1936) was the best last of her major works of poetry, but in 1937 she and Erskine printed privately Selected Poems by Charles Erskine Scott Wood and by Sara Bard Field.

Because Erskine and Sara were people of broad sympathy and compassion, each with a highly developed social consciousness, The Cats was a kind of clearing house for causes. Both poets spoke in public protest against what they considered the intolerable imprisonment of Tom Mooney, the labor agitator implicated in the 1916 Preparedness Day parade bombing in San Francisco. In 1935, they joined the Provisional American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky, a group supporting the exiled Trotsky's plea for an impartial trial to clear him of the Stalinist charge of treason. At about this time, Wood discovered that he and Sara were under investigation by the House of Representatives Special Committee on Un-American Activities, headed by Martin Dies. Wood wrote a series of letters to Dies, scolding him for abandoning the fundamental american values of Liberty and individual rights. In 1936, at a Western Writers Conference in San Francisco, Wood delivered an address that took the conference by storm and the audience of progressive writers such as Upton Sinclair, Kenneth Rexroth, and Nathanael West, concerned with the rise of fascism and interested in fostering solidarity within their ranks, elected him their president, seeing him as a symbol of western American independence and the radical tradition in American thought. It is clear that Erskine and Sara, despite the protective shell of their hillside house, were very much of and in the world.

The Cats was not only a distinctive dwelling set in a stunning backdrop of natural beauty, it was a way of life. Both poets were committed to writing but beyond that they were dedicated to the art of living. Out of their devotion to each other and from the tranquillity and charm of their surroundings, they shaped a relationship that was as much a thing of their own creation as any piece of poetry fashioned in their twin studios. Each drew from the other in a kind of spiritual symbiosis. Sara gave Erskine youth and graciousness, abiding love, and criticism and advice in his writing. He gave her something of his vitality and strength combined with worldly wisdom born out of long and varied experience upon which she might draw; security, with a chance to develop her own talent; and a sprawling philosophy of freedom that she could accept and share. Abundant evidence that some such relationship existed can be drawn from the couple's double journal, from explicit statements in letters from friends and admirers, and from the testimony of those still living who knew Sara and Erskine and who remember the texture of their life together. Lincoln Steffens put it this way in a letter written after returning from a celebration at The Cats of Wood's eightieth birthday:

When we drove home from The Cats Monday, I felt that I had been in a place of beauty, and I wondered why we didn't go oftener to you. The drive there is beautiful, the house, the guests, the spirit of it all--the whole and every part are beautiful. Los Gatos is a work of art. A play of art....You are, both of you, each one of you, beautiful works of art.

Their San Francisco friends made their way to Los Gatos. Noel Sullivan came often, having a house in Carmel and a sister in a convent in Santa Clara. Several times he brought Langston Hughes along. Fremont Older lived nearby in Los Altos Hills, financially secure after his paper's merger with the Hearst chain but unhappy at the accompanying restraints. When Genevieve Taggard visited they would have long discussions on how to use poetry to promote political change. John Steinbeck and his first wife Carol lived near The Cats for several years and would stop over to talk and drink their good, red Princess wine. Through mutual friends, George Sterling and Albert Bender, the Woods became friends with the poet Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una. The reclusive Jeffers did not travel far from Tor House often, but Erskine and Sara would visit them every few months, sometimes picnicking on Carmel Beach. Wood admired Jeffers's poetry and Jeffers had read The Poet in the Desert, finding it "noble."

Sara's daughter Kay married James Caldwell, a professor of English at the University of California, in a lavish wedding at The Cats in 1927, and they settled down in Berkeley. Caldwell liked his in-laws immensely and the four of them were often together. In that same year Wood won his income tax case but the stock market crash of 1929 reduced his wealth, though the couple's lifestyle did not change dramatically. Sadness came in the deaths of family and friends. Sara's son Albert, of course, died in 1918, followed three years later by the death of Maxwell, Wood's favorite son. Nanny died in 1933. Fremont Older died in 1934 and both Lincoln Steffens and Bill Hanley the next year. In 1938, Darrow passed away.

Late in 1937, Wood's phenomenal health failed. He suffered a severe heart attack while staying with his daughter Lisa in San Rafael. On January 20, 1938, prompted by his weakened condition and by the need to safeguard Sara's inheritance of the estate, the two poets were married by Rabbi Jacob Weinstein of Chicago, in a private ceremony at The Cats.

Wood died on January 22nd, 1944, just one month short of his ninety-second birthday. Sara wrote his son Erskine that "to the last conscious hours nothing but love and humor came from his lips." His body was cremated and his ashes were sown through the live oak grove at The Cats, a wish he expressed in one of his sonnets.

In a long and eventful life, C.E.S. Wood was many things to many people. A hostile view would stress his extravagance, his vanity, his self-conscious, sometimes strident, anarchism. Surely special pleading marred some of his work nor, except for Heavenly Discourse and his lyrics, was brevity a hallmark of his style. While admitting his talent and charm, there were those who could not stomach what they considered to be a mixture of hypocrisy, blasphemy, immorality, and self-indulgence. Nonetheless, across the years, Wood's life has an impressive richness and vitality. Touch the man almost anywhere in his several careers and find style, gusto, variety, vision, and Renaissance proportion, characteristics that, as the reader will see, also mark his literary production.

C.E.Scott Wood's first career was short-lived and not of his own choosing. He spent four years as a reluctant West Point cadet, followed by ten years in the infantry as a competent but dissatisfied soldier who had a prominent part in one of the most dramatic and tragic Indian campaigns of North American history. Over that decade the young officer bent his military experience toward his true interests. He turned a brief probe of Alaska and service on the far western frontier into articles published in Century, the premier illustrated monthly of the era. By the generous exercise of poetic license he turned Chief Joseph's words of surrender into one of the most famous and quoted speeches in the annals of Indian oratory. As adjutant of West Point, he played host to Mark Twain and delighted the humorist with his hospitality and by secretly commandeering the Academy press to print a limited and elegant edition of the scandalous "1601." Taking advantage of detached service, Lt. Wood mingled with east coast avant-garde artists and earned a law degree from Columbia University that allowed him to resign his commission within less than two years and set up as an attorney in Portland in 1884. Using wit and intelligence, Wood followed his own artistic star even while serving with some distinction in the army.

The second segment of Wood's life was three times as long as his military phase and over those years in the Pacific Northwest, with physical and mental powers at full strength, Wood played an increasingly contradictory and complex role. He saw the region develop from frontier to established society. Living in a center of that society and traveling from it in all directions, Wood could claim to have had a hand in the transition. As a successful attorney, he maintained a varied practice, supported a large family, and managed to hold onto propertied clients while questioning the bases of their security. His work with William S. U'Ren in Progressive reform politics, his association with Harry Lane, his campaign for Woodrow Wilson, and his persistent defense of civil liberties gave him a measure of success on the level of practical political reform, despite views that were regarded as visionary or downright dangerous.

As a poet, satirist, editorialist, and short story writer, C.E.S. Wood left a significant legacy in literature. Through Pacific Monthly, widely circulated along the Pacific slope, he commanded a substantial regional audience and his column "Impressions" ruffled the complacency of the literate and essentially conservative reading public of Portland and the West Coast. His contributions to Liberty and the Mirror involved him in the dialogue of the anarchist and libertarian communities. In the twenties and thirties, Wood enjoyed a good reputation, especially among leftist editors. His work appeared in a number of respectable anthologies and in many of the important literary reviews of the day. He was listed in Who's Who in American Literature in the thirties and is listed in the current Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West. Wood wrote four books of lasting merit: A Book of Tales, The Poet in the Desert, Heavenly Discourse and Poems from the Ranges. Scattered among his other works are number of fine lyrics, some excellent short stories, and various passages of eloquent and lucid prose. Like Homer, he sometimes nodded. However discursive he could be, though, he was rarely boring, having a bright and teeming mind a gift for turning a phrase.

As a self-confessed anarchist, Wood tried mightily to disturb Portland's peace. As artist, critic, and man of broad culture, he worked to refine the tastes and sharpen the aesthetic sensibilities of his fellow Northwesterners. Why did generally conservative Portlanders suffer such a man to live and declaim in their midst? Wood was tolerated, perhaps, because his philosophical anarchism was considered too extreme to pose a genuine threat to society, or possible because they sensed an element of truth to his views. More important, Erskine was a fascinating and polished personality, as at ease in a banker's drawing room or at an Arlington Club banquet as he was on Bill Hanley's eastern Oregon ranch or at an I.W.W. meeting. Prominent Oregonians who detested and decried his radical doctrine liked his company, admired his taste, and trusted his judgment, even when they disagreed with it. Portland patrician Harry Corbett, in a letter to Wood's eldest son, testifies to "Ces" Wood's impact on Portland:

I am glad we talked of your father the other day and if we have sense we will do it again on other days and have the memories of him blow the cobwebs out of our brains. He didn't have many cobwebs in his--all was mostly fresh breezes blowing...I know that I owe to him most of whatever appreciation I have of fineness and niceties but then, hell,, the whole of Portland as it once was, owes much of its culture to him....There are few who can shape the trend of thought of whole city. Certainly he did that for this town, and just as certainly that same extraordinary influence of his moved into the most unexpected places; from Mrs. Hanley who never knew how beautiful eastern Oregon was till he brought Hassam out and showed it to her, on to quite a few you and I knew on Burnside Street, who reveled in the music of some words he wrote down.

In California Erskine was able at last to live life on his own terms. The twenty years that he and his good companion Sara spent together at The Cats were a time of vital and original experience. However, that is not to say that their lives were an uninterrupted idyll. There were disappointments. There were money troubles. Each had disruptive bouts of sickness. There was separation from family and there was deep sorrow through the loss of a child for both. Neither could escape the past, but they shared a rare capacity for the enjoyment and enrichment of the present, and misunderstanding and discord seem to have been minimal. Their existence was nicely but not evenly proportioned between solitude and celebration. The solitude was more important and they gloried in the sense of aloneness on their private hill. Still, Sara and Erskine also loved good company and they delighted in planning an evening around the presence of talented guests--Robinson and Una Jeffers perhaps, or Lincoln Steffens and Ella Winter, or John Steinbeck, William Rose Benét, or Mark Van Doren. They gathered to talk, to read aloud and criticize, and always there was Princess wine from the domestic cellar. All in all, for Erskine, these must have been truly vintage years.

If there is a constant factor in Colonel Wood's three careers, it would have to be rebellion. It is not surprising that a man who, until his late sixties, felt oppressed by one kind of authority or another--father, army, legal profession, Gilded Age ethics and values, Victorian convention--should rebel in the direction of anarchism, a theory that provides the utmost leeway to the individual. However, Erskine was not the same kind of rebel after 1918 that he was in the first decade of the century. In the early period his anarchism sprang largely from having to subdue or hide artistic, romantic, and literary urges in the face of demanding responsibilities imposed by family and law practice, both of them growing. There is a defiant note in the passage from Wood's 1905 journal:

I rebel against the suppression of the individual, the lack of freedom and the falsity--the hypocrisy of the smooth successful life....I am sick of worthy men who force others to their own ideas of worthiness....I would have more hope from a society where men gambled freely if they wanted to, than from a society made to be good by force of law and the thunders of the pulpit....I have more hope that the uplift of the physical and mental man will be resumed when society permits free love than I have from a society which forces the passing glance of young nature to be one dead, eternal gaze.....I deify rebellion. I glory in being a rebel--and a fanatic.

There is a suggestion of Albert Camus' "Dandy," from The Rebel, in the Wood of 1905--handsome, vain, and dramatically dressed, reminiscent of Ezra Pound in London at around the same time. Outspoken in his anarchism, Erskine demanded for himself in Portland something of the freedom that John Reed, Floyd Dell, Mable Dodge and others were seeking and finding in Greenwich Village.

By 1918, Erskine's anarchism is changing in makeup and direction. It is less self-absorbed, more humanitarian. In The Poet in the Desert, condemnation of the state and of authority is explicit and severe, but Wood does not renounce all law; rather he proclaims the law of nature as supreme, as he did in A Masque of Love. If people can only learn to understand freedom and adhere to Nature's ordinances--the central one being freedom--then they will evolve their soul as well as their body. However, in The Poet in the Desert, Wood marshals his original blend of transcendentalism and anarchism with the goal of gaining social justice for all, a significant development in his thought.

Harry Corbett remembered Charles Erskine Scott Wood as a civilizing influence in Portland. max Eastman recalled him as an "all-sided lusty man who lived with an Elizabethan gusto." To Lincoln Steffens, he was "that lovely old anarchist." His legacy is one of the spirit--a spirit that impressed those who knew him with his personality and presence; his love of life, learning, and freedom; his aesthetic relish; his range of interests, delight in camaraderie, and joy in the verbal arts, and, in the end, with his wisdom and humanity. C.E.S. Wood was a distinctive human being whose life and writing enhance our understanding of the American character.

Member of AAUP